People experiencing domestic abuse frequently deal with a myriad of physical, emotional, psychological and even financial challenges. Why victims continue to live in abusive relationships is, for many, one of the most puzzling questions surrounding this issue. 

 Below we clarify the psychological factors that could keep victims in these kinds of relationships and provides advice on how to help them get the support they require. 

Recognising the psychological causes 

1. Fear and Intimidation 

Fear plays a significant role in why people experiencing domestic abuse continue in abusive relationships. Threats and intimidation are common tools used by abusers to keep their victims under control. This can include threats of physical harm, harm to loved ones, or other consequences that scare the victim. Fear of retaliation can be a powerful deterrent to leaving the relationship. 

2.  The Low Self-Esteem 

Perpetrators of domestic often undermine the value and self-esteem of their victims. Victims may eventually start to feel that they are unworthy of a better life, or they somehow deserve the abuse. People with low self-esteem may find it difficult to ask for assistance or to even imagine living a life outside from the abusive relationship. 

3. Isolation 

Abusers often isolate their victims from friends and family, making them believe they have no one to turn to for support. Isolation can leave victims feeling trapped and with no alternative but to remain in the abusive relationship. 

4. Financial Dependence 

Another prevalent method employed by abusers is economic abuse. It may be difficult for victims to leave their abusers if they are financially dependent on them. An abuser can sometimes build up debt in the victim’s name.  Fear of not having the means to support themselves or their children can be a significant barrier to seeking help. 

5. Trauma Bonding 

Notwithstanding the pain they experience, some victims form a strong emotional bond with their abusers. It may be difficult for victims to leave an abusive relationship due to the conflicting emotions that can result from this process, known as trauma bonding. 

6. Hope for Change 

A common belief among victims is that their abusers will eventually change. Abusers may occasionally apologise, make promises to improve, or act affectionately, giving victims misplaced faith that the abuse will end. Their decision to depart may be postponed by this desire for change. 

How to offer support 

1. Listen non-judgmentally 

Give a sympathetic ear to someone you think may be in an abusive relationship, without passing judgement. Encourage them to talk about their feelings, anxieties, and experiences.  Make it clear that you believe and support them. 

2. Provide information 

Pass on the contact details of The Somerset Domestic Abuse Service. They offer non-judgemental, confidential help, support and advice: 0800 69 49 999.  

3. Encourage professional help 

Encourage them to get assistance from experts, such as counsellors or therapists who have dealt with abuse in the past. These professionals can offer advice on how to end the relationship safely and get past the trauma. 

4. Respect their decisions 

It’s crucial to remember that the decision to leave an abusive relationship is complexed and must ultimately be the choice of the person experiencing the abuse. Respect their autonomy and decisions, even if they choose to stay there for the time being. 

5. Safety first 

Put their safety first and foremost. Encourage them to telephone the local domestic abuse hotline 0800 69 49 999 or get support from their website. Telephone the police if you think they are in imminent danger. Help them create a safety plan to minimise risks. 


Understanding why people stay in abusive relationships is essential for offering support and assistance. Psychological factors, such as fear, low self-esteem, and trauma bonding, can be powerful barriers to leaving an abusive partner. Offering non-judgmental support, information about resources, and respect for the victim’s choices can be critical in helping them break free from the cycle of abuse. By working together as a society, we can help people experiencing domestic abuse find the courage to leave these harmful relationships and build a safer and brighter future. 

Find out more about supporting someone who you think may be experiencing domestic abuse by taking this short online learning Vue App (  

If you are experiencing any form of domestic abuse, worried about someone you know, or are concerned about the impact of your behaviour towards others, then help is available: or by telephoning 0800 69 49 999 – between 8am – 8pm, 7 days a week. 

In an emergency you should always dial 999. If you are worried that an abuser may overhear your call you can remain silent, tap the phone and dial 55 when prompted by the operator who will send help. 

If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired you can register with Once registered you will be able to send a text to 999 if you require help in an emergency. 


  1. Home – Women’s Aid ( | Refuge National Domestic Abuse Helpline ( Help – 50 Obstacles to Leaving – The Hotline 
  1. Getting help for domestic violence and abuse – NHS ( 
  1. How long do people live with domestic abuse, and when do they get help to stop it? | Safelives 
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About this article

April 11, 2024

Michael Wallis

Advice and support